Have you hit the proverbial brick wall in your family history research? Are you at a loss for taking the next step? What you might need is to invest in a local family history book written about your ancestor’s town, county, or general area. I wrote about the importance of understanding localities in my post “Location, Location, Location: Putting Your Ancestors in their Place.” Today’s post is about learning even more about that place where your ancestors lived.
I was at a loss about how to research records in the Chickasaw Nation, Indian Territory that would become part of Oklahoma in 1907. Twelve of my direct line ancestors lived in that area and there was just not a lot of information online about the records or how to access them. Checking out the Family History Library Catalog on FamilySearch.com, I noticed a book titled, Pioneers of Chickasaw Nation, Indian Territory by Nova A. Lemons.¹ On my next trip to Salt Lake City, I took a peek and discovered that Nova had gone to great lengths to put together a fabulous resource complete with history and geography of the area, records and their availability, county details, and many photos and histories of the people that lived in the area.
I photocopied some of the pages pertaining to the records, but my ancestors weren’t listed in the index, so left it at that. When I got home, I couldn’t stop thinking about the book. I looked it up online, and saw that Nova had also published a second volume with all new information. Long story short, I purchased both books and couldn’t be happier. The original Pioneers of Chickasaw Nation, Indian Territory was published in 1991, so why has it taken me so many years to discover this resource? Family history research is a journey. We return to our ancestors over and over again as we improve our research skills. Hopefully we never count a family line as “done.” As new questions arise, we go to new sources.
So with that introduction, here are my five reasons to buy a local family history book, even when your ancestor isn’t included.
1. The Story
Local histories tell the tales that you wish your ancestors had told. They fill in the blanks between the census years, putting the records you’ve found in a whole new light. In Pioneers of Chickasaw Nation, Indian Territory, Nova includes an interview with John T. Barr given in 1938. In reflecting on the early days of the area he gives fascinating details such as:
A good many cowmen came in from Texas seeking new range for their cattle and all this tended to advertise the country. Many of the cowmen ran wire fences around their ranges, putting in large pastures to save expense and to keep cattle belonging to others off their range. In this way quite a number of large pastures in the western part of the Chickasaw Nation were enclosed. Some of these pastures covered thousands of acres. As no white man could lawfully hold cattle in the Indian country, the pastures by secret arrangements were all claimed by Indian citizens but were financed by non-citizens who were the real owners of the stock. This was done to evade the law. (p. 96)
2. The Records
A local history might give you clues for research. In my case, Pioneers of Chickasaw Nation, Indian Territory includes specifics on the records available, where the records are kept, and the best way to access those records. For example, Nova writes:
Permits – According to the tribal law, no person could sell or trade any goods without a permit. Non-citizens were required to pay an annual fee for permit to live and work in Chickasaw Nation. These permits were purchased from the Tribal Government. Most of them are found on microfilm roll CKN 18 at the Indian Archives, Oklahoma Historical Society. Since these records are not indexed and the staff is unable to do extensive research, it will be necessary to check the microfilm personally which requires time and patience. (p.16)
3. The Land
Knowing the lay of the land, the climate, the natural barriers, can all help with understanding why your ancestor did what they did. Because places change with time, a local history might give you clues as to what the land was like when your ancestor lived there. My dad talked of “cutting sprouts” and “living off the land” when he was a boy in Oklahoma in the 1930’s. Apparently “sprouts” came up from the roots of the trees that had been cleared and grew everywhere. “Living off the land” meant hunting wild game for dinner. His family ate a lot of rabbit and squirrel. . . Reading this description in Pioneers of Chickasaw Nation, Indian Territory helped me form much better mental images:
The region was a mosaic of timber extensions interlaced with grass-dominated areas. . . .Its broad diversity of plant life provided habitat for a variety of wildlife. Some of the mammals that roamed the area then included opossum, armadillo, swamp rabbit, cottontail and jackrabbit, squirrel, coyote, gray and red wolf . . ..
Apparently, a virtually impenetrable forest named the “Cross Timbers” formed a natural and important boundary between the eastern woodlands and the short-grass covered western plains.
During the early days of Indian Territory it became firmly established as a boundary and landmark for people traveling east or west across the southern plains. (p. 11)
4. The FAN Club
Even if your ancestor isn’t listed in a local history, other individuals included could be a friend, neighbor, or associate; part of what Elizabeth Shown Mills has termed the FAN Club.
In Pioneers of Chickasaw Nation, Indian Territory I found an “Interview with W.B. Flick “ to be especially interesting. He mentions several locations that coincide with my ancestors: Marietta, Ardmore, Maxwell, Pauls Valley,and McGee, all in the Chickasaw Nation Indian Territory. If my grandpa were still alive, I’d be willing to bet that he knew of the Flick family. Some of the tidbits from the Flick interview include:
– In 1888, W.B. Flick traveled with his parents and brother from Texas to Indian Territory in a “wagon working 2 horses and 2 oxens.”
– He married Jane Davis in 1889, then “bought a lease from Tom Love, Chickasaw Indian, and built a log house on it, bought 2 oxens from his father and started to farming.”
– In 1891, he moved on to Nebo and went to work for an Indian woman named Lou Brown. Apparently she had married a white man and the Indians didn’t like him and killed him. A few nights after Mr Flick and his wife moved in with her “7 or 8 Indians on horseback surrounded the house and began shooting into the house. He saw that they were all going to be killed, so he got his Winchester and run out in the yard and began firing from the house.”
– W.B. Flick moved at least eight times between 1888 and 1910.
Reading Mr. Flick’s interview helped me understand that all of the moving my ancestors did was not unusual. Since the land had to be leased from the Chickasaws, buying and selling leases was part of life. With the 1890 census destroyed, I have a twenty year gap between the 1880 and 1900 censuses. Reading various histories of other Indian Territory settlers has helped me fill that gap!
5. The Author
Purchasing a book supports the authors who work so hard to compile and publish information. In the introduction to Pioneers of Chickasaw Nation, Indian Territory Nova tells of her journey:
Many people have asked why I did this book. There are several reasons. Scarcity of Chickasaw Nation, Indian Territory (Oklahoma) records prior to statehood is the main reason. When I started researching my family history in that area, I ran into and still run into brick walls without finding anything. Often I would not know where to look or what records were available. There was not a single guide to pave my path but over the years bits of advice were suggested. Learning about the lives of other people’s ancestors has often helped me piece together some of what my ancestor’s days in Chickasaw Nation were like. (p. i)
How can you locate a local history book where your ancestor lived?
- Search Google Books. Try a simple search with the locality and “family history” in the search bar. Some books show a snippet, table of contents, or the whole book might be digitized. Includes links to Worldcat and online booksellers.
- Search the FamilySearch Catalog, on FamilySearch.org. Search by “place;” enter your state, county, or town, then look for “Histories” in the results. You can also try the subject or keyword searches for your locality. If the book has been microfilmed you can request the film be sent to a Family History Library near you. If there is a link to Worldcat, click on it to see the libraries near you that hold a copy of the book. Once you’ve found a book that looks interesting, you can google the title and find more information about the book.
- Search the “Stories, Memories & Histories” Collection in the Card Catalog on Ancestry.com. Add your locality to the keyword search or select your country, then state, and county to see what is available. All of the books are digitized and searchable.
- Check out the “Histories, Memories & Biographies” collection on MyHeritage.com. Click on “advanced search” and put your locality in the keyword search. Again, the book will be digitized and searchable.
- Contact the local library, museum, or genealogical society for suggestions of books that might help you.
Best of luck in finding a local history book that will help you break down a brick wall or two!
Nancy Elizabeth Briscoe, one of my pioneers of Chickasaw Nation, Indian Territory.
¹Nova A Lemons, Pioneers of Chickasaw Nation, Indian Territory, Timbercreek Ltd. Miami, OK, 1991.